Journal entry, 9 Aug 2018: Listening to a light history programme on Radio Four, called ‘Did the Victorians Ruin the World?’ This episode is all about beards. Victorian soldiers and writers and scientists and explorers all had beards. In the bedroom this show was playing on my Pure DAB whilst in the living room I had the TV set tuned to R4. The faint delay between broadcasts created a fake echo which made it sound as if I was in a cathedral.

Sometimes a greater understanding of a nation’s history can be gained by playful discussion of apparently frivolous aspects.

Journal Entry, 20 May 2019: Jacob Rees-Mogg is an eccentric Conservative MP who is famous for being unaware of anything that has taken place in the past 100 years or so. I exaggerate slightly; but he makes clear that he is a determined Catholic who places church doctrine above the wishes of the Whips’ office. And he has recently written – if that isn’t too strong a word for it – a book about twelve eminent Victorians.

The book has been savaged by the critics for its dire prose and for having a narrow, fatally skewed view of Victorian society. He tries desperately to paint Victorian Britain as the grand theatre of stability where great ideas such as Brexit were originally germinated. And in one exchange on Radio Four, he was accused of completely misunderstanding the behaviour of General Charles Napier in Sindh.

Perhaps Rees-Mogg should try going to work in a factory to learn about modern Britain, and how it differs from Victorian England. Or you could get him to spend some time helping out at a branch of B-and-Q. Some baffled customers might ask him for advice on which is the best type of household emulsion paint, and he would say ‘Dunno, mate; paint is paint, innit?’ When what he should really say is that some brands of paint are more expensive than others because they are carefully tested – alongside rival products – to monitor the following properties:

Liquid paint properties (skinning, condition in container, coarse particles and foreign matter, density or weight per gallon, fineness of dispersion, flash point, odor, absorption, colorant acceptance, dilution stability, package stability, heat stability, and settling); coating application and film formation characteristics (brush application properties, brush drag, roller application properties, roller spatter, spray application properties, touch-up uniformity, consistency (low-shear viscosity), rheological properties of non-Newtonian liquids, sag resistance, levelling properties, and drying properties); appearance of dry film (color appearance, color differences by visual comparison, color differences using instrumental measurements, directional reflectance, gloss, sheen, hiding power, and yellowness index); properties of dry film (abrasion resistance, adhesion, flexibility, resistance to household chemicals, color change of white enamels, washability and cleansability, blister resistance, exposure resistance, chalking, checking, cracking, erosion, flaking, mildew resistance, and fume resistance); and Coating Analysis (chemical analysis, volatile content, nonvolatile volume content, water content, pigment content, pigment analysis, nonvolatile vehicle content, vehicle separation, and nonvolatile vehicle identification).

Journal entry, 15 Jan 2004: I can’t remember a great deal about the children’s home called Jasmine. Certain pop songs on the radio take me back – Video Killed, Reasons to be cheerful, Stay With Me ‘til Dawn, Livin’ on an Island. Each year we would go to spend a week on holiday in a caravan at Great Yarmouth (including a free 7-inch single as a gift) and one year I bought ‘Tragedy’ and the following year I bought ‘Breathing’.
We had a swing hanging from a tree in the back garden. I used to enjoy swinging on this and then jumping off in mid-air. Of course, I once misjudged the landing and bashed my nose. Blood everywhere. That was the end of that.

The Indie has a ‘Your Money’ section where they offer financial advice. One client was a graduate radio worker on 14 grand a year, and the columnist advised that they could buy a 3-bed house in Leeds for 110 grand.

Journal entry, 4 Dec 2003: Last night to S- for fish, chips, beer and sex. We watched a TV show called ‘Body Snatchers’ all about parasites – microbes, worms etc – that infest people and animals.
Fascinating – cats carry a microbe which they pass to rodents to make them slow and stoopid and thus easier to catch. People catch this from their pets and show delayed reactions.

Eradication of worms has corresponded with recent increase in allergy problems. And women are able to identify men with better immune response and tend to find them more attractive.
So when John Ricketts commented ‘I bet he doesn’t remember eating those’ (referring to slugs gathered round a pavement pizza) he could have been right.

In the local news – a gifted graduate chemist who won half-a-million in the lottery has jumped to his death.

Journal entry, 2 Jun 04: Went to bank and updated passbooks: TESSA 4018, Mini-ISA 2546, Abbeysave 3472. [Note: with these savings, I had no need of PPI on my credit card from MBNA]

Down in St Austell, the local social club has a savings and draw scheme where members pay regular instalments and one lucky winner each month gets £100. On one occasion, the number drawn belonged to a recently-deceased club member. And rather than give the prize to his widow, the committee insisted on a redraw.



It’s raining in Preston


We are in the boardroom for a meeting; on the walls are some very impressive etchings of the company founders in their chains of office. Long dead strangers, I don’t think the current MD would be able to name all of them without inspecting the caption at the foot of each picture.

It would be fun to try replacing these pictures with similar etchings of famous (but not obvious) classical composers or eighteenth-century writers; but perhaps that wouldn’t work. After all, even if you only caught a glimpse of Busoni or Verdi walking into a hotel lobby you would know immediately that this was no ordinary being.

Consider the standard millbase formulation: resin, pigment, solvent and glass beads. Shake vigorously for fifteen minutes and then let down to produce finished coating.

I proposed that we look at making additions to this blend to enhance the dispersion process. No need, said my boss. So I carried out the trials anyway, in my own time, using a wetting and dispersing additive. Even a tiny amount of this material produced a significant change – the gloss and colour strength of the finished coating were both increased.

Which made me wonder if perhaps the ‘standard’ millbase was not standard after all, but merely the best that could be done with available resources. Once the clarinet had been invented, everybody wanted to write music for it; but nobody imagined that major works by previous composers were in any way lacking because they didn’t include it.

I presented the results to him, and he said this is all very interesting, but it doesn’t justify the increased cost of materials or manhours. So I let the matter drop, only to discover several months later that he had approached one of our consultants, telling them all about his amazing new discovery.

I also suggested that we could try adding small amounts of inert extenders to modify the millbase; again, he dismissed this idea as being unnecessary. I noticed we had some old tubs of fumed silica and fluorinated wax powder in a cupboard, so I looked at putting a small amount of these into a millbase formulation.

When added individually, the powders made only a slight difference to the colour strength; but when used in combination, they transformed the appearance of the finished coating. I noted these results, and a few weeks later during our regular meeting, I asked the visiting consultant if it was worth looking at using additives of this kind.

He turned to the boss: no wonder your products are all over the place if you listen to crackpot ideas like this, he said. The boss nodded sagely, and told me that it was all very well having ideas about the technology, but really I was not there to think, I was there to work.

I remarked that I had heard somewhere about the effect of using fluorinated wax powders; apparently they cause localised alignment of the resin molecules, with all the hydrophobic groups next to the polymer surface, and all the functional groups facing away.

This means that when the functional groups react, they form a shell of very hard, densely crosslinked resin which enhances the overall properties of the coating.

The boss was unimpressed. Get away, he said, everybody knows our products are already perfectly good and there’s no need to improve them. He had forgotten that the idea for using these powders had originally been suggested by the consultant himself about four years previously, which is why we had samples of them in the lab. And, possibly, why said consultant was busy reading the minutes instead of joining the discussion.

We could imagine the fluorinated wax beads as large balls with smaller grains of pigment stuck to their surface; and the pigment particles themselves would look like irregular lumps with tiny, jagged clusters of fumed silica dotted around them. This idea fascinated me, and I started to browse through various textbooks of medicine and astronomy, searching for diagrams that could be adapted to illustrate my wild theory.

It’s Raining In Preston

The ribbon dreams of bleeding twisted words
In black and red upon the hammered white expanse
A list of things that should remain unsaid

Ideas that have a long-shot chance to grow. Shirts
That hang like treasures on a dusty rail
Drop hints of other lives and other dreams.

Stuck to the shiny pavement, a fast-food menu
Shouts at me: bold stripes of red and black
Mark out the hottest dishes of the day.

The station’s half-a-mile away
And I’ve forgotten my coat. Perhaps I’ll pick one up
In a charity shop; there has to be one in a place

Like this. I push the door and stumble in
Dripping with embarrassment. Rain-beaded glasses
Focus badly on shelves of tatty hardback books
That no-one’s read for thirty years; a

Plastic tub of cutlery – random, scratched. Fat
Brown ties with polyester swirls remind me of
The social club with cards and lemonade when
I was just a lad. Some dusty framed prints lean against the wall.

I carelessly glance at the shirts, and take down a small blue book.
‘A Crystal Age’, by someone Hudson. I’m not sure what it means.
Then on the floor, a hefty relic of the past; a

Remington Imperial, arms tipped with thunder
Squatting in a finely-wrinkled skin of black.
Leering at me (caught in its roller) there’s a twisted page. At once

A tiny window opens up and lets me see
The shadow of a stranger’s life. I imagine someone
Banging out the crumpled words that lurk
Within the ribbon’s red-and-black expanse.